The Scent of the Night
Andrea Camilleri Picador, 350pp, £6.99
The Scent of the Night is a formulaic police procedural to the hilt: a financial adviser disappears along with several billion lire that the hard-working citizens of Vigata in Sicily have entrusted to him, and Detective Inspector Salvo Montalbano is unwillingly drawn into the case when an angry creditor holds the embezzler’s innocent secretary at gunpoint.
However, Andrea Camilleri has breathed new life into this mystery subgenre plot by creating a fascinating police officer. Inspector Montalbano is a cross between Georges Simenon’s Maigret and Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe,
but transcends them both. He
feels “a wave of nostalgia” when
he hears the anthem of international socialism, cries for his favourite olive tree that has been chopped down, and feels extremely jealous when his girlfriend’s attention is directed
to anyone other than himself. All this helps make the inspector a credible and complicated lead character in what is essentially a detective story.
In the series featuring Montalbano, Camilleri has opened a new horizon for the crime novel by skilfully combining the comic and the grotesque. Peppered with comments on Italian life, politics and the media, his stories are not only a joy to read, but also literary works in their own right.